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Discover the power of mindfulness and slow down to reach higher

August 13, 2022 - 16 min read

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What is mindfulness practice?

12 benefits of mindfulness

What is mindfulness meditation?

Where does mindfulness practice come from?

What is mindfulness in psychology?

Types of mindfulness

The 4 characteristics of mindfulness

Everyday examples of mindfulness

How often should you practice mindfulness?

Develop your own practice of mindfulness

Attempting to practice mindful meditation — whether for a minute or several — can lead to a tornado of thoughts swirling in your brain. All of a sudden, you may start wondering if you’ve fed the cat, what’s for dinner, the best couch for your living room, or if you need to do a grocery run. 

It’s tough to silence your brain. But that’s also the point behind this practice. 

Meditation is about being patient and disciplined. It requires you to sit with your thoughts and emotions, notice them, and let them go.

Mindfulness is a type of self-care you can practice every day. But what is mindfulness, really? Discover how this ancient practice works, along with the many benefits it delivers.

What is mindfulness practice?

Here’s a simple definition of mindfulness: it’s the act of paying attention to your actions, surroundings, thoughts, and feelings.

Easy, right? After all, you wouldn't get much done if you weren’t paying attention. 

But you’d be surprised how much of your life occur on autopilot. You might muddle through your morning routine, commute to work without thinking about it, then spend the day responding to any issues that arise.

You’re probably mindful during some of it, like getting up to stretch because you’ve been sitting at your desk all day. This requires you to pay attention to your body and what it needs and act accordingly.

But you might have been doing other things you weren’t aware of simultaneously. Were you biting your nails unconsciously? Was your heart beating faster due to stress? Were you clenching your jaw?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is about becoming aware of your unconscious thoughts and behaviors. It can help prevent burnout and improve your emotional regulation. And through this process, you can break negative patterns and change how you relate to the world around you.

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12 benefits of mindfulness

There are many beneficial effects of mindfulness. For instance, you may experience:

  1. Higher quality of life
  2. Self-compassion
  3. Self-regulation
  4. Enhanced performance
  5. Greater self-awareness
  6. Less negative emotions
  7. Improved emotional regulation
  8. More attention to others’ well-being
  9. Ability to dispel negative thoughts
  10. Mental fitness
  11. A positive state of mind
  12. Breaking rumination patterns

Reaping the benefits of mindfulness means making it a regular practice. Of course, developing new habits takes time. But you’ll feel the difference even after the smallest steps.

BetterUp can help you develop healthy habits. With the help of our coaches, you can make a plan to improve your well-being and stick to it.

What is mindfulness meditation?

If mindfulness is the practice of self and situational awareness, mindful meditation is a way to develop this skill. You can also do everyday activities with more mindfulness. You can even practice mindful eating. This habit will help connect you to the here and now.

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Usually, mindful meditation goes something like this:

  • Sit in a neutral, upright posture
  • Close your eyes
  • Place your hands on your knees, with your palms facing toward the sky
  • Focus your energy and attention on taking long, slow breaths
  • Re-focus if your mind wanders

This technique forces you to focus on yourself. If you’re not used to sitting still, it might take some time to settle in. But once you do, you might notice new things about yourself. 

You can meditate for any amount of time. If you’re just starting, you can try for 10 minutes, then gradually increase.

Whenever you complete a session, you’ve essentially “warmed up” your brain to be more conscious of the world around you. It helps you be more mindful throughout the rest of the day.

Where does mindfulness practice come from?

Not everyone agrees on the origins of mindfulness training, but many researchers say it started in Eastern countries

Some texts in Indian Buddhism referenced the practice as early as a few hundred years BC. 

We can also find traces of it in ancient Chinese texts. The Daoist philosopher Laozi wrote about mindfulness principles between 200 and 500 BC.

That being said, the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity also feature meditative-like exercises. That’s true even if we don’t traditionally associate these faiths with “zen.”

These days, meditation is no longer exclusively a Buddhist or Christian spiritual practice. Almost a quarter of non-religious Americans say they engage in some kind of mindfulness activity.

What is mindfulness in psychology?

Beyond its spiritual roots, mindfulness and meditation are heavily researched. Take a look at some studies into the science of mindfulness — each reiterates the health benefits of mindfulness work:

  • In an article from 2013, researchers found that meditation increases people’s compassion and altruism. The practice actually strengthens regions of the brain responsible for social cognition and emotion regulation. This, in turn, converts to a greater understanding of the suffering of others.
  • Many mental health care professionals recognize the benefits of meditation, so they founded a practice called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). They include meditation as an intervention for mental health disorders.

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Types of mindfulness

There are many forms of meditation. Each requires your full focus and attention and carries similar benefits. Here are some of the different types:

  1. Sitting meditation. This is likely what first comes to mind when you hear “mindfulness.” It involves sitting upright, paying attention to your breath, and trying to settle your mind.
  2. Mindful breathing. This is similar to meditation, but you don’t need to keep your eyes shut. Slow, deliberate breaths are enough to reduce your stress.
  3. Body scan. This kind of mindfulness involves paying attention to your body sensations. Focus on your toes, then gradually work your way up. This gives you an awareness of your physical existence and sensory experience.
  4. Journaling. Writing can be a type of mindfulness. When you free-flow your thoughts on a page, it gives you room to observe them as they occur.
  5. Sensory exercises. You can also do everyday activities with more mindfulness. Pay attention to the wind on your skin or the sound of music. Each will connect you to the here and now.
  6. Guided meditation. Many videos, mindfulness apps, and recordings can guide you through a meditation session. They usually involve a calming voice offering step-by-step instructions to help you explore your inner self.
  7. Yoga. There’s a reason why over 36 million Americans do this activity. Yoga is the practice of mindful stretching, which helps you cope better with stress and connect with your body.

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The 4 characteristics of mindfulness

Every type of mindfulness shares four common characteristics:

  • Intention. You have to want it. There’s no way to passively cultivate moment awareness.
  • Retention. Mindfulness meditation practice is something you can (and should) repeat in your everyday life.
  • Attention. Cultivating awareness requires you to be present.
  • Attitude. It’s important to be curious and non-judgmental. But, most importantly, you must show loving kindness to yourself and others.

Each of these characteristics supports the other. When you practice any type of mindfulness exercise, you engage all four.

Everyday examples of mindfulness

Mindfulness can affect your daily life for the better. As you develop your practice, you can maintain awareness outside your meditation activity. 

Here are some examples of how you can do that. 

  1. Leverage downtime. It’s easy to find five minutes to check in with yourself. Next time you’re early for a meeting, avoid scrolling on your phone. Instead, take a deep breath. Take in the space around you. Check-in with how you’re feeling or your physical sensations.
  2. Listen when people speak. Active listening anchors you in the present moment. Pay close attention to the people in front of you, make eye contact, and ask questions non-judgmentally. This kind of mindfulness will help you retain information and form a deeper bond.
  3. Connect with nature. Hiking and other nature excursions are great ways to connect with the biological world. But you can connect with nature at home, too. Open the window, listen to the birds, or go for a walk. These are small ways to be mindful of the outdoors.
  4. Practice gratitude. Small thoughts of gratitude throughout the day can positively impact your mental health. They force you to be mindful of the good things in your life.

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How often should you practice mindfulness?

The frequency of your mindfulness practice will depend heavily on you and your goals.

But for more intense exercises like body scanning or sitting meditation, it’s better to treat it like going to the gym. You need to set aside time to make it happen and work it into your daily routine. You know yourself best, so it’s up to you to carve out time for it.

Develop your own practice of mindfulness

So what is mindfulness? 

In short, it’s a practice that takes time. But you’ll be rewarded for your patience and discipline. Its benefits are rooted in ancient history. They’re reinforced by neuroscience and mindfulness research. Once you build the habit, you’ll notice many things start to improve.

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Published August 13, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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